A diary of mysterious difficulties
“Is Francis here?” Dora asked in a trembling voice. “The idea of being back here, in London, in this apartment, before him in any form was unthinkable even two weeks ago. I even reproached him in my dreams for not having me back sooner. It is a good deal more terrifying than I can explain, for all of its mundane routine.”
“If only you could tell me everything, right now, Dora dear, without lying, I would be thrilled…” Agnes was interrupted by Mrs. Micawbers who had come into the living room after a loud flush of the toilet.
Mrs. Micawbers and Dora regarded each other for a little while, doubly wound up by reason of the circumstances. They embraced tearfully without saying a word. Dora explained,
“Since the day I last saw you both at the dock, I have taken heart to write a good many trifling details of my life so to share what this time has brought me.” Dora surveyed the apartment, which Davy Copperfield and Mrs. Micawbers had worked to configure for Dora’s return. Up the creaky old stairs and into the living room they gathered.
“To think,” said Traddles, “that you should have been so nearly like Paul. All these wonders afforded us much pleasure, I know especially as I’m an old un, peevish-like. Now I DID know the other old uns…”
“Oh Traddles,” shouted Mrs. Micawbers, “you’ve been into the booze so early today! And without me…” motioning to Dora, she went on, “It is a beautiful morning, could I say a word to you, Dora my dear?”
Mrs. Micawbers bundled Dora into her bedroom. The light from the living room cast green shadows. She signaled to Dora not to turn on the light.
“Remember Dora, you’ve been away. Things have shifted since you left…The five big divisions are still working, but things have gotten hot. We’re on the run again—we’ve been hurt but we’re better off now than seven months ago… At first we were slow, working on the seven targets actively, but in deep cover. We knew any growth was going to take a new start, no sleep!” Dora couldn’t help but think about Agnes’s numerology: the fives and sevens meant something. Her aunt laughed some and continued,
“He may be white and funny, but Francis has run this thing within an inch of its life. Could have given up, thrown in the towel, said to us all ‘don't keep up this charade!’ run off far away, farther than you, my dear, to make his way out of the depths…But he stayed in…”
Dora looked down at her feet, taking it all in, and then interjected, “All three of us are still warm. I need to walk, to think…”
“Oh Dora, don’t get so serious so soon. There’s never time for us to drink! Let’s go out and join the others and raise a glass to celebrate your return.” They walked together back into the warm light of the living room.
“To you Dora. You, who are worth ten of us,” she reached for a glass poured by Agnes. “You made it through the first long exile, and you’re back! There will be plenty of time to become re-accustomed to the complexity of the situation. Get that glass full, Agnes! And you, Dora, raise it high and drink it down! We’ll get some use out of you yet—I can tell your blood is still red and that you’ll have us open to the sky.”
The group drank deeply, savoring this time when it felt as thought there was time, and to spare, to wallow in the bright moment.
Dora was on the verge of tears, she was saying, “Imagine, to go and come back before the big actions. If I had had the right, I’m not sure I would have risked it. Having me back, it is unexpected…and that’s what I suppose we’re counting on.” Her deep fidelity and goodness were clear.
The door opened suddenly and the cool of the hallway swept in with Copperfield.
“Well, Davy,” said Dora’s aunt; and he looked up at her, and then across to Dora, “for the sake of us all, embrace her! She isn’t a ghost!”
His own face had suggested the allusion quite without her saying it. He thought of running away, back out into the hallway, taking Agnes’s hand and running. He came back into the moment and strode over to Dora, dancing. He smiled, and shot as evil a glance at her baggage. His embrace seemed to come from gratitude that shook him from head to foot, and he stood upon the brink. He said,
“They’ve arrived at Highgate without encountering any problems—the mining was well worth it, and it will go our way again. And, last of all, we will set the thing entirely on its head, take their little wet feet and put them in among the ashes to warm them.” Traddles, Agnes, Dora and Mrs. Micawbers stood looking at Copperfield.
Dora thought, “Could this be the boy? He is so grown…”
Her thoughts were interrupted by Copperfield, who had more to report, “At first, I thought it was Traddles coming back for something Mrs. Micawbers needed. Then I realized it was a signal. She took a ribbon off her own neck, and draped it ‘round mine. Last night she had a ribbon, the same color, and had wrapped it round little Minnie’s plump throat. But last night was all obstacles, and while she fretted, I told her we would win the race.”
“And what did Mrs. Gummidge say?” Mrs. Micawbers asked gravely. Traddles procured for Davy a glass of milk, as though he were a child. Copperfield went on, frowning,
“I forget how many might be part of the new scenario. Or if the two elderly ladies of that sort, you know what sort, right, would now play a role. But Dora, at the end of it, we knew we needed you. What am I saying?! What do I think I’m saying, lately?! You don’t mind, right? You know Dora, with mama, my papa was in the habit of saying, “Emily’s form is fragile.” I never gave him an answer, and went upstairs into the quiet room where I sat. It was beautiful, so mournful, and so hopeful, as the glorious ship that might one day bring you back. Emily is a lost soul and only you can help.”
“That’s enough, Davy, my dear,” interrupted Mrs. Micawbers seeing that Copperfield had gotten himself all worked up, “Poor Dora has just walked in the door! Sit down, sit down. Let’s all sit for a while and enjoy the moment.”
They rustled into formation, taking their places on the simple furniture and looked at one another very slowly. Dora watched as Copperfield’s face emerged from his disguise. He wore Steerforth’s flaxen wig, and whiskers, and it such a complete disguise that she never would have recognized Copperfield but for his eyes. They were Francis’s.
“If anyone wishes to know anything from me, I hope they will take the liberty of asking. I’m an open book to you all, especially to you Davy,” Dora proclaimed, pleasing the old man, Traddles.
Copperfield listened with the utmost attention, turning his head towards Dora, but looking at her feet instead of her eyes, which were slick with tears. She belonged here, finally. She had been locked out, without any use except as an offering of possibilities. She hoped to come off as stoic, and at the same time to hold their attention. She wanted them to know she had suffered but that she had done so for the hope of the future.
“Then if you WOULD be good enough,” said Traddles as he motioned for Agnes to refill his glass. “You know, Dora, I overheard the people speaking of you at their doors. Many were hardened, thinking you were lost. Looking for the good in it…”
Mrs. Micawbers interrupted, “Now, Mr. Traddles, I don’t mean to reproach you, my dear, but this is not comfortable. We four here carried on, just as Dora did. A blue, clear sky is never far off, but always difficult to find and it never turns up un-summoned. A first drink welcomes our Dora home, but we need not get into the weeds just yet. After her long ride, let’s try to ask the fly to guide us towards the future!”
Dora jumped in, “I nearly gave up on it all. You see, while I was away I had to focus on the quotidian of my days. It was very plain, although not without its warm pleasures…” She trailed off thinking of the hovering bees in the morning and the soups of her afternoons, and even the cop who flirted with her. Dora went on to describe the moments when she felt she could never see it through, and all that was left was a visit to the market to buy meat and vegetables.
The day wore on and they talked late into the night. Agnes and Dora were the only ones left awake and they chattered as if they had never been apart. That feeling of intimacy rushed in like the tide.
“A thinker sees her own actions as experiments and questions--as attempts to find out something. Success and failure are for her answers above all," Agnes was holding forth. She relied on her mysticism to get her through, and while she hardly believed it was claptrap, she explained it thus, "It is a far, far better thing to have a firm anchor in nonsense than to put out on the troubled sea of thought."
“For me,” Dora continued, “When I shook off the lethargy that bound me to my chair, to the inactivity forced by my exile, I found it most difficult to bring my heart back into it without being at the center. Seeing Paul…”
Traddles rolled over on the couch, muttering, “And thinking of the old un is a thing she never done, but I do and have concealed until tonight. But, I believe the time has come much, and so much wished that you should honour me…”
He trailed off and Dora and Agnes giggled. “Oh Traddles, he is straight as an arrow, committed to the constant promise of youth…” Agnes started in, “As if that’s any consolation for our trials, then I would say it is only a young ones’ game. But we know otherwise, don’t we Dora?” Smiling. “Now let us try together. Let me show you, love.”
Agnes took Dora’s hand imploringly. Dora interjected, somewhat off subject, “I am dreading seeing Peggoty, that other Davy. I’ll tell you that there was a time, when I loved him better than anything, but it turned out that he, like Mr. Dick, had a disappointing head, phrenologically speaking, full of lumps. You know I might never have said no to Davy, and everything might have been different. Steerforth and Emily might never have run off….”
“But Dora, there’s no going back in time, and these romances, don’t you see, are at the core of our work. With some observation and distance, I can tell you that with some certainty.”
Agnes scrutinized Dora, eyed her gloomily - remorsefully she thought - for an instant; and nearly revealed herself as the perfect country gentlewoman she was to follow lustily with the same cry as in their youth. The idea of these former selves, despite Anges’s exhortations, settled a thin blanket of depression upon them both. They were quiet together for some time.
“Do you remember,” Agnes broke the silence, “When Traddles, playing the part of the spare waiter, carried out our last action before you left? We took on number two in the Court? It was a step in the right direction. You and I were mistresses of the place, and the fire, here, in our house in London? It was one night in spring, but the winter’s wind was still brisk and we needed that warmth.”
The memory came rushing back to Dora with a force she hadn’t expected. She nearly burst with emotion, and exclaimed, in a state of high ecstatic fervor, “You came to me in the middle of the night, we shared a bed, and it was the longest, most beautiful night…” Despite her words, she expressed them with no sympathy or gentleness. As her eyes gleamed receiving these memories, Dora felt they were discoveries that dawned on her with a sour spirit.
Suddenly, as if it had never been written, or set to music, he sprung out of the air--Mr. Omer burst through the front door with an burst of urgency. It was dawn and those who were still sleeping were roused. Mr. Omer exclaimed,
“I have softened a far harder heart than mine! My dear Dora, welcome home! It took infinitely longer for me to get here than anticipated…” a great gulf followed these words, and disappeared.
Dora jumped to her feet and ran to embrace him. Mr. Omer went on, “Well, Dora, I’ve had such big thoughts of you,” turning to the others, he went on, “What a spectacle she is! Upon this beautiful morning, among mist of love and beauty…I’m thinking of Dora, and of nothing else, and now she is here standing before me!”
He stood at the center of the group, evidently without thinking about Dora at all; and then his benevolent smile. “Yes,” he said, “That’s right. Quite right. I should have been here far earlier, my friends, but now we shall begin!”
Laura Raicovich works as president and executive director of the Queens Museum. Her book At the Lightning Field is out this April from Coffee House Press. She is the author of A Diary of Mysterious Difficulties (Publication Studio), a book based on Viagra and Cialis spam, and is an editor of Assuming Boycott: Resistance, Agency, and Cultural Production (OR Books)